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Drug cheats in fast lane to London

IT was unedifying and disturbing to watch Justin Gatlin and Dwain Chambers on the rostrum in Istanbul Atakoy arena over the weekend, being presented with 60 metres gold and bronze respectively at the World Indoor Championships.

Dwain Chambers, centre, finishes third behind winner Justin Gatlin, right, in the 60m final in Istanbul. Picture: John Giles/PA
Dwain Chambers, centre, finishes third behind winner Justin Gatlin, right, in the 60m final in Istanbul. Picture: John Giles/PA

The 2004 Olympic 100m champion, Gatlin has served not one but two doping suspensions: one for a stimulant to address attention deficit disorder, and another of four years for using the male hormone, testosterone.

It was Chambers' third world indoor medal since serving a two-year ban. He used a steroid designed specifically to evade detection, part of a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs.

This cost him his European 100m title.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) regard his offence as so venal that they will brook no reprieve which would permit selection for their team. America has no such eligibility scruples. If Gatlin finishes in the first three at the US Olympic trials, he will compete in Chambers' home city for gold.

Odds-on to win the UK trials, Chambers is clutching at an Olympic lifeline, however. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will today consider an appeal by the BOA against a World Anti-Doping Agency ruling which says the British body's policy of excluding dope cheats does not comply with their code. It may take a month to deliver the ruling, but the smart money is against the BOA.

This would open the door to Chambers, and Scottish cyclist David Millar, to compete in London 2012.

"I am living proof that you can make mistakes and get yourself back on the straight and narrow, and my being able to compete at this top level is living proof that it can be done," said Chambers, adding that it would be "fantastic" to be eligible for London. There are many spurious arguments about restraint of trade, denial of the opportunity for redemption, and suggestions that exclusion discourages whistle-blowers to shop cheats. Some even suggest it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment – that even time-served murderers have the right to earn a living. This overlooks the fact that paedophiles can no longer teach, that drunks can't earn a living driving, and that police and lawyers convicted of criminal offences forfeit employment rights. Misconduct short of illegal behaviour is grounds for some professional bodies to strike off offenders.

The ranks of bleating bleeding hearts overlook the fact that honest athletes have a right to protection.

There is scientific proof that drug cheating benefits are long-lived, that steroid abuse "may also have implications for exclusion periods after a doping offence," according to Oslo University research.

When Gatlin won in Turkey, his time was 6.46 seconds. Despite his prolonged absence, his time this weekend was just one hundredth of a second slower than in what appears to have been a dope-fuelled prime.

It would be comforting to interpret this as an argument for drugs not working – an indication that Gatlin would have got there without the chemicals.

Chambers has returned from suspension to run significantly faster over 60m than in his doping days, and he is within three hundredths of a second of the forfeit European championship 100m record of 9.96, recorded with his steroid-injection system.

This is compelling evidence that drug cheating confers continuing benefits. It prompts a cry for justice to CAS from honest competitors who may have to face cheats this year. But don't bank on CAS hearing. The Lausanne-based court seem obliged to follow the precedent of Swiss law, and rule that the BOA stance constitutes double jeopardy. Frenchwoman Hind Dehiba (convicted of EPO use), who created the precedent which CAS has followed, ran in the 1500m final. She is also faster now than pre-suspension. So it was a pleasure to see her finish fifth.

However, she has already opened the floodgates. Chambers should sharpen his spikes.

* To take gold at 39 as a mother of two, winning a world medal for a third country after doing so in the colours of Cuba and Sudan, is remarkable, but these are but chapters in the amazing journey of Yamile Aladama, who took triple jump gold for Britain in a triumph of the human spirit.

She came to the UK from Cuba in 2001, to be with her Scottish husband, Andrew Dodds, but he received a 15-year sentence for heroin trafficking. Despite being absolved from any implication, Aladama could not get a UK passport, so opted to compete for Sudan.

With her husband now free, and British credentials granted, she is British, proud of it, and back with him.

Athletics kept her going as she struggled to bring up her son, Amil. "My focus on the track kept me out of all the situations going on," she said, but she almost gave up in 2003. She was No.1 in the world but stateless. "It was very hard for me to be sitting in the stands watching the girls jumping."

Her coach, Frank Attoh, recounts how in Cuba she was "heavily pregnant and picking up radiators and chucking them places the same day she had a baby. They just got on with it on their farm." The day after she'd given birth to their second child, Diego, in 2010, Attoh saw Aladama doing biceps curls with a bottle full of sand.

The only downside of her success, she says, is that she worries about her history becoming high profile again, and Amil reading it. "He doesn't know yet," she said, "so we need to sit down and talk to him. I don't want him to find out from other people."

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